I got in a conversation recently with a friend who is about to have his first paper published. It’s been through review and is now accepted at a well-respected old-school journal owned by a legacy publisher. It’s not an open-access journal, and he asked my advice on how he could make the paper open access.

We had a fruitful discussion, and we agreed that I’d write up the conclusions for this blog.

First, you can pay the publisher to open-access your paper. That’s a legitimate option at “hybrid OA” journals, which by this point is pretty much all paywalled journals. But even when the journal invites it, that’s not always possible. In this case, my friend has no institutional funds available, and really isn’t in a position to bung the publisher $3000 out of his own pocket.

The second option is to write to the journal saying that you select the OA option, but that since you have no institutional support you have to ask for a waiver. Will this work? It’s impossible to tell unless you try it. Some journals might have an absolutely-no-waiver policy; heck, some might have a “we always give waivers but don’t advertise the fact” policy. My guess is that most have no policy at all, but that editors (who are nearly all researchers themselves) will tend to be sympathetic, and support your case. Anyway, it can’t hurt to politely ask.

If that fails, the the third approach is to use the SPARC Author Addendum. Using this legal instrument (which is freely available), you do not transfer copyright to the publisher, as they usually request, but instead give them a non-exclusive right to publish — which of course is all they actually need. That leaves you legally free to post the accepted (peer-reviewed) version of the manuscript elsewhere: in an institutional repository, your own web-site or wherever. (I’ve never used this myself, but I hear it’s widely accepted.)

If the publisher is intransigent enough to reject the SPARC Addendum, the fourth approach is to dedicate your manuscript to the public domain (for example by posting it on arXiv with the CC Public Domain Declaration). Then return the copyright transfer form to the publisher, saying truthfully that there is no copyright to transfer. Publishers are used to dealing with submissions that have no copyright: for example, everything authored by U.S. federal employees is in the public domain. Their copyright forms usually already have a section for declaring public domain.

Finally if somehow all of the above tactics fail — if the journal flatly refuses to give an APC waiver, won’t accept the SPARC addendum, and rejects works that are in the public domain though not written by US Government employees — and if despite their evident hostility to science you still want to stick with the journal that accepted your paper — then you have one final option. You can just go ahead and give them the copyright, but then post the final PDF on your own web-site anyway. Of course, you are not technically allowed to do that, but historically it’s never been a problem. It’s very widely done — especially by old-school professors, because it would never even occur to them that sharing their own work could be a problem.

To be clear, I am not advocating the last of these. The four preceding approaches are better because they are fully in compliance with copyright law. But when dealing with a publisher that is simply determined to prevent your work from being read, then you have to weigh for yourself whether you’re more interested in respecting copyright, or doing what’s right.

This is the situation with several of my own old papers, which in my young and stupid days I signed over to publishers without giving it any thought at all. Having got myself into that situation, it seems to me that making those papers available anyway is the least bad of several bad options. But I would never choose that approach now, since I publish exclusively in open-access venues.


Option zero (not discussed here) is to use an open-access venue to start with: then none of these issues even arise. But failing that:

  1. If you have funds, use them to pay the publisher an APC to make the article open access.
  2. Ask the journal for an APC waiver.
  3. Use the SPARC Author Addendum to retain copyright and give the journal a licence to publish.
  4. Dedicate the manuscript to the public domain and tell the publisher there is no copyright to transfer.
  5. If all else fails, just post the paper publicly anyway.

It is, truly, excellent news that the US budget passed by Congress on Thursday night includes open-access language that effectively extends the NIH open access policy to many other federal agencies. It’s a huge and important step forward. (See Peter Suber’s typically careful analysis of how it compares with the NIH policy, the proposed FASTR bill and the White House OSTP directive). In keeping with the Library Loon’s post on framing incremental gains, I am delighted by this very positive step.

On the other hand …

When I read the headline of the Washington Post piece that I linked above, “Half of taxpayer funded research will soon be available to the public”, it reminded me just how far we still have to go. Half of taxpayer-funded research? How disgraceful that we report that as a good thing.

“Hey, great news everybody! Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat!”

Or no, wait, it’s worse: “Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat after not more than 12 months!”

So yes, this is excellent news, when considered against the backdrop of the iniquitous historical situation. But we have a long, long way to go before we reach justice.

Let’s not ease up, folks: until everyone has immediate free access to read, use and redeploy the research that we all fund, we will still have a situation where publishers deliberately hobble progress, and are allowed to do so. And that should not be acceptable to anyone.


Lots of researchers post PDFs of their own papers on their own web-sites. It’s always been so, because even though technically it’s in breach of the copyright transfer agreements that we blithely sign, everyone knows it’s right and proper. Preventing people from making their own work available would be insane, and the publisher that did it would be committing a PR gaffe of huge proportions.

Enter Elsevier, stage left. Bioinformatician Guy Leonard is just one of several people to have mentioned on Twitter this morning that Academia.edu took down their papers in response to a notice from Elsevier. Here’s a screengrab of the notification:


And here is the text (largely so search-engines can index it):

Hi Guy

Unfortunately, we had to remove your paper, Resolving the question of trypanosome monophyly: a comparative genomics approach using whole genome data sets with low taxon sampling, due to a take-down notice from Elsevier.

Academia.edu is committed to enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature. Elsevier takes a different view, and is currently upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online.

Over the last year, more than 13,000 professors have signed a petition voicing displeasure at Elsevier’s business practices at www.thecostofknowledge.com. If you have any comments or thoughts, we would be glad to hear them.

The Academia.edu Team

(Kudos to the Academia.edu team, by the way, for saying it like it is: “upping the ante in its opposition to academics sharing their own papers online”. It would have been easy for them to give no opinion on this. Much better that they’ve nailed their colours to the mast.)

I was going to comment on Elsevier’s exceedingly short-sighted and mean-spirited manoeuvre, but happily the Twittersphere is on it already. Here are a few thoughts:

This doesn’t directly affect me, of course, since I’ve had the good fortune not to have published in an Elsevier journal. But it’s another horrible example of how organisations that call themselves “publishers” do the exact opposite of publishing. The good people I know at Elsevier — people like Tom Reller, Alicia Wise and The Other Mike Taylor — must be completely baffled, and very frustrated, by this kind of thing.


Every time they start to persuade me that maybe – maybe – somewhere in the cold heart of legacy publishers, there lurks some real will to make a transition to actually serving the scholarly community, they do something like this. It’s like a sickness with them.

Do scholarly publishers really need to be reminded that “publish” means “make public”? Yes. Yes, they do. Apparently. Remember how I called legacy publishers “enemies of science” back at the start of 2012? Yup. Still true. And, astonishingly, as Rafael Maia noted, Elsevier seem determined to lead the way.

Have they learned nothing? Will they never?

Publishers ... You're doing it wrong

Walk-in access? Seriously?

November 26, 2013

Reading the Government’s comments on the recent BIS hearing on open access, I see this:

As a result of the Finch Group’s work, a programme devised by publishers, through the Publishers Licensing Society, and without funding from Government, will culminate in a Public Library Initiative. A technical pilot was successfully started on 9 September 2013

Following the link provided, I read:

The Report recommended that the existing proposal to make the majority of journals available for free to walk-in users at public libraries throughout the UK should be supported and pursued vigorously.

I’m completely, completely baffled by this. The idea that people should get in a car and drive to a special magic building in order to read papers that their own computers are perfectly capable of downloading is so utterly wrong-headed I struggle to find words for it. It’s a nineteenth-century solution to a twentieth-century problem. In 2013.

Who thought this was a good idea?

And what were they smoking at the time?

I can tell you now that the take-up for this misbegotten initiative will be zero. Because although it’s a painful waste of time to negotiate the paywalls erected by those corporations we laughably call “publishers”, this “solution” will be more of a waste of time still. (Not to mention a waste of petrol).

I can only assume that was always the intention of the barrier-based publishers on the Finch committee that came up with this initiative: to deliver a stillborn access initiative that they can point to and say “See, no-one wants open access”. Meanwhile, everyone will be over on Twitter using #icanhazpdf and other such 21st-century workarounds.



As a nice little perk–presumably for being early adopters and users of PeerJ–Mike and I each have been given a small number of referral codes, which will allow other folks to publish in PeerJ for free, as long as the papers are submitted by March 1, 2014. Here’s the scoop, straight from the monkey’s mouth:

If you have colleagues who would like to publish at PeerJ, then we want to give them the opportunity to try us out for free. Therefore, as a Published PeerJ Author, we are providing you with 5 unique ‘Referral Codes’ (which expire on March 1st) to distribute to your colleagues. Each code entitles the recipient to an entirely FREE PeerJ publication. They simply need to quote your referral code in the “Notes to Staff” field, when they submit to PeerJ, and as a result they will be able to publish that article for free (assuming it passes peer-review). Please disseminate these codes to colleagues who you feel will use them, but please make sure that they realize that this code is only valid for submissions made before March 1st, 2014.

Note that this is alongside the current promo wherein, if you post a preprint to PeerJ PrePrints (which is a smashing way of getting fast feedback, or at least it was for us), that manuscript can be published in PeerJ for free, as long as it is formally submitted before January 1, 2014. So if you can get the lead out before the end of the year and don’t have an allergy to fast feedback, you don’t actually need one of these codes.


So. If you’re not a PeerJ member but you have a manuscript that you’d like to send to PeerJ before the first of next March, let us know and we’ll hook you up with a referral code. If you’re fairly sure you will use one but aren’t ready to ship yet, let me know and I’ll set one aside for you, with the proviso that I can give it away if we’re getting close to the deadline and you’re not realistically going to make it.

If we get more takers than codes, we’ll figure out some fair way of choosing who gets a code, probably randomly. I will be strongly biased toward people without big paychecks* or institutional support, like grad students and postdocs. (If you’re an undergrad, you can already publish in PeerJ for free, at least for the duration of the pilot program.) So if you’re a grad student or postdoc with a serious plan to get published, speak up and you’ll go to the head of the line. So if you let us know why getting a code would benefit you, you’re more likely to get one.

* I know in academia none of us think we have big paychecks, but compared to most grad students and postdocs, those of us with steady full-time employment are living the dream. I’m trying to reach the folks for whom the $99 lifetime membership fee would be a genuine impediment.


As is apparently the usual thing now when I’m writing about PeerJ and don’t have any images of my own queued up, I’ve borrowed images from Brant Bassam’s astoundingly cool BrantWorks.com to spice up this post. Explicit permission to reproduce the images with credit can be found on this page, which is coincidentally where these images themselves are from. Get on over there and prepare to lose some time looking at sweet stuff.

Update! Five more Golden Tickets available!

As noted in the comment below, Heinrich Mallison also has five PeerJ vouchers to distribute to deserving causes. So if Matt and I run out, the options are still open. Feel free to contact Heinrich directly or to go through us if you prefer.


Well, folks, I’m back from Berlin. And what an extraordinary couple of days it was. There were in fact three days of open-access talks, though I was only able to be there for the first two. Day one was the satellite conference, aimed at early-career researchers; days two and three were the much larger main conference, attended mostly by heavy hitters: senior librarians, university administrators, a sprinkling of politicians, and of course some researchers and publishers.

It was my privilege to speak at both satellite and main conferences. This post is really just to advertise those talks. Why am I doing this? Because I’m convinced that they’re by far the most important talks I’ve ever given. It’s great fun to talk about Barosaurus at SVPCA, or about intervertebral cartilage in Bonn, but if someone says to me that that work doesn’t really matter in a cosmic sense, I’ll be hard put to find reasons why they’re wrong. But open access has profound and immediate consequences for health, industry, education, third-world development, and more fields than I can list.

So here are the talks.

Satellite meeting talk


First up, at the satellite conference, my subject was: Towards universal Open Access: what we can do about it, and who should do it. My goal here was to help researchers see what practical steps they can take right now towards the open-access goal that we all aspire to. I covered six areas:

  1. Publish our own work open access (whether Gold or Green)
  2. Review for Open Access journals
  3. Edit for Open Access journals
  4. Advocate Open Access policies
  5. Deprecate journal rank
  6. Talk about Open Access

Along the way, we talked about the open-access citation advantage, the (mostly non-) problem of article processing charges, the complete non-problem of “predatory open-access publishers”, the acceptable length of Green-OA embargoes (zero), the SV-POW! decision tree, publishers’ lack of control over what you do before you sign the copyright transfer, the inability of impact factor to predict citation count (post to come), the childishness of evaluating individuals by journal rank, and the knotty problem of who should take responsibility for fixing our current broken system.

Here are a few tweets that went out as I was giving this talk: “a blistering, fantastic presentation“, “Can we get a twitter round of applause … Absolutely BRILLIANT presentation“, “TOTALLY BRILLIANT“, “This is why we HAVE to record these conferences. Not recording that presentation would be a crime“, “It was AWESOME!“, and finally my favourites: “making you not just know #openaccess , but feel it” and “Mike’s talks at the #Berlin11 conference was 1of the most emotional 1′s I have ever seen!

I actually don’t know whether it’s going to be possible for people who missed the live stream to watch this talk. That was the plan, but I heard a rumour that the recording went wrong. If a video does becomes available, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, you can at least get the slides [PowerPoint or exported PDF]. They are CC By.

Main meeting talk


In the main conference, I used my slot to remind us all that Open Access is about sharing, unity and sanity, not about money. Because I was addressing a more senior audience that necessarily has to think more about practicalities, finances, ways and means, I wanted to take the opportunity to remember that those are not the issues that gave birth to Open Access; rather, it started out as an unabashedly idealistic movement (as reading any of the three great declarations will show you). I don’t want us to walk away from that high-ground and be reduced to thinking only about practicalities, important though they are.

Publishers and their associates often say — rightly, as far as they go — that “Scientific and technical publishing is a business“. But no-one goes into it because of they money they can make. Everyone involved in doing or publishing research surely got into that business because their eyes were on a higher prize. So the burden of my talk was that publishing research is a mission; that far from “getting rid of the idealists“, we should cherish them; and that we should encourage rather than curb our own idealistic tendencies.

Perhaps the most satisfying part of the whole conference was giving this talk — you might almost call it a preach — and watching the nodding agreement spread across the audience. Folks, we’re about a great work. Let’s not forget that. Let’s not sell ourselves short.

The main session was unfortunately not livecast, and to the best of my knowledge, there were never any plans to record it. But as with my satellite talk, you can at least get the slides [PowerPoint or exported PDF]. They are CC By.

Where next?

Since I made the slides available for download immediately after the talks (three days ago for the satellite meeting, two days ago for the main meeting), I’ve been surprised and delighted to see the download numbers — currently standing at 641 for the satallite talk and 939 for the main talk. The tweet announcing the main talk has also been retweeted 34 times and favourited 26 times. I hope that shows that I struck a chord.

I have an informal invitation to deliver the main-session talk next year to an Italian university, which I’ll be pleased to do once we’re able to sort out the details. I’m not sure whether more invitations are likely to be forthcoming, but I’ll mention them here if they do materialise.

I’d like to finish by thanking my employer, Index Data. As most of you know, I am not a career academic: I work on sauropods in my spare time (and advocate open access in my spare spare time), earning my living as a computer programmer. By the time the invitations to speak at the Berlin conferences came in, I’d already booked up my annual leave allowance, so I had to ask for permission to take unpaid days for the conference. Instead, Index Data gave me two more paid days — because they, like me, believe in the importance of open access.

This is all the more laudable since, if anything, universal open access will harm our business. A significant part of what we build is authentication mechanisms to allow people (legitimate) access to paywalled resources. Once everything is open, no-one will need to pay us to do that. It’s greatly to Index Data’s credit that, despite this, they want to help us push on towards a goal that will benefit society as a whole.


  • Taylor, Michael P. Monday 18 November 2013. Towards universal Open Access: what we can do about it, and who should do it. Berlin 11 Satellite Conference for students and early-career researchers. [Slides PPT] [Slides PDF]
  • Taylor, Michael P. Tuesday 19 November 2013. Open Access is about sharing, unity and sanity, not about money. Berlin 11 Open Access Conference: 10th Anniversary of the Berlin Declaration. [Slides PPT] [Slides PDF]

Yesterday I was at the Berlin 11 satellite conference for students and early-career researchers. It was a privilege to be part of a stellar line-up of speakers, including the likes of SPARC’s Heather Joseph, PLOS’s Cameron Neylon, and eLIFE’s Mark Patterson. But even more than these, there were two people who impressed me so much that I had to give in to my fannish tendencies and have photos taken with them. Here they are.


This is Jack Andraka, who at the age of fifteen invented a new test for pancreatic cancer that is 168 times faster, 1/26000 as expensive and 400 times more sensitive than the current diagnostic tests, and only takes five minutes to run.  Of course he’s grown up a bit since then — he’s sixteen now.

Right at the moment Jack’s not getting much science done because he’s sprinting from meeting to meeting. He came to us in Berlin literally straight from an audience with the Pope. He’s met Barack Obama in the oval office. And one of the main burdens of his talk is that he’s not such an outlier as he appears: there are lots of other brilliant kids out there who are capable of doing similarly groundbreaking work — if only they could get access to the published papers they need. (Jack was lucky: his parents are indulgent, and spent thousands of dollars on paywalled papers for him.)

Someone on Twitter noted that every single photo of Jack seems to show him, and the people he’s with, in thumbs-up pose. It’s true: and that is his infectious positivity at work. It’s energising as well as inspiring to be around him.

(Read Jack’s guest post at PLOS on Why Science Journal Paywalls Have to Go)

Here’s the other photo:


This is Bernard Rentier, who is rector of the University of Liège. To put it bluntly, he is the boss of the whole darned university — an academic of the very senior variety that I never meet; and of the vintage that, to put it kindly, can have a tendency to be rather conservative in approach, and cautious about open access.

With Bernard, not a bit of it. He has instituted a superb open-access policy at Liège — one that is now being taken up a model for the whole of Belgium. Whenever members of the Liège faculty apply for anything — office space, promotions, grants, tenure — their case is evaluated by taking into account only publications that have been deposited in the university’s open-access repository, ORBi.

Needless to say, the compliance rate is superb — essentially 100% since the policy came in. As a result, Liège’s work is more widely used, cited, reused, replicated, rebutted and generally put to work. The world benefits, and the university benefits.

Bernard is a spectacular example of someone in a position of great power using that power for good. Meanwhile, at the other end of scale, Jack is someone who — one would have thought — had no power at all. But in part because of work made available through the influence of people like Bernard, it turned out he had the power to make a medical breakthrough.

I came away from the satellite meeting very excited — in fact, by nearly all the presentations and discussions, but most especially by the range represented by Jack and Bernard. People at both ends of their careers; both of them not only promoting open access, but also doing wonderful things with it.

There’s no case against open access, and there never has been. But shifting the inertia of long-established traditions and protocols requires enormous activation energy. With advocates like Jack and Bernard, we’re generating that energy.

Onward and upward!

Just a quick post to let you know that I will be presenting two different talks at the Berlin 11 open access conference on Monday and Tuesday next week.

The first one is in the satellite conference for early-career-researchers, where I’ll be talking about “Towards universal Open Access: what we can do about it, and who should do it.” There’s an exciting line-up of much more interesting speakers than me, including schoolboy genius Jack Andraka, SPARC director Heather Joseph, and visionary OA advocate Cameron Neylon.

My second talk is in the main conference, and will argue that “Open Access is about sharing, unity and sanity, not about money.” If anything, the line-up for the main conference is even more intimidating, with ministers from three European governments including our own David Willetts. I don’t know whether they’ll be sticking around for the parts of the conference when they’re not speaking, but if they are then I hope I can plant a seed.

I heard just in the last half-hour that the Satellite Conference will be broadcast live on the conference website. Please share this link! For anyone tweeting, the conference hashtag is #berlin11. No word yet on broadcast of the main conference.

I’ll be posting the slides for both talks after the conference, and perhaps turning the main-session one into a paper.

A few bits and pieces about the PLOS Collection on sauropod gigantism that launched yesterday.


First, there’s a nice write-up of one of our papers (Wedel and Taylor 2013b on pneumaticity in sauropod tails) in the Huffington Post today. It’s the work of PLOS blogger Brad Balukjian, a former student of Matt’s from Berkeley days. The introduction added by the PLOS blogs manager is one of those where you keep wanting to interrupt, “Well, actually it’s not quite like that …” but the post itself, once it kicks in, is good. Go read it.

Brad also has a guest-post on Discover magazine’s Crux blog: How Brachiosaurus (and Brethren) Became So Gigantic. He gives an overview of the sauropod gigantism collection as a whole. Well worth a read to get your bearings on the issue of sauropod gigantism in general, and the new collection in particular.

PLOS’s own community blog EveryONE also has its own brief introduction to the collection.

And PLOS and PeerJ editor Andy Farke, recently in these pages because of his sensational juvenile Parasaurolophus paper, contributes his own overview of the collection, How Big? How Tall? And…How Did It Happen?

Finally, if you’re at SVP, go and pick up your free copy of the collection. Matt was somehow under the impression that the PLOS USB drives with the sauropod gigantism collection would be distributed with the conference packet when people registered. In fact, people have to go by the PLOS table in the exhibitor area (booth 4 in the San Diego ballroom) to pick them up. There are plenty of them, but apparently a lot of people don’t know that they can get them.


This is an exciting day: the new PLOS Collection on sauropod gigantism is published to coincide with the start of this year’s SVP meeting! Like all PLOS papers, the contents are free to the world: free to read and to re-use.  (What is a Collection? It’s like an edited volume, but free online instead of printed on paper.)

There are fourteen papers in the new Collection, encompassing neck posture (yay!), nutrition (finally putting to bed the Nourishing Vomit Of Eucamerotus hypothesis), locomotion, physiology and evolutionary ecology. Lots every sauropod-lover to enjoy.


Taylor and Wedel (2013c: Figure 12). CT slices from fifth cervical vertebrae of Sauroposeidon. X-ray scout image and three posterior-view CT slices through the C5/C6 intervertebral joint in Sauroposeidon OMNH 53062. In the bottom half of figure, structures from C6 are traced in red and those from C5 are traced in blue. Note that the condyle of C6 is centered in the cotyle of C5 and that the right zygapophyses are in articulation.

Matt and I are particularly excited that we have two papers in this collection: Taylor and Wedel (2013c) on intervertebral cartilage in necks, and Wedel and Taylor (2013b) on pneumaticity in the tails of (particularly) Giraffatitan and Apatosaurus. So we have both ends of the animal covered. It also represents a long-overdue notch on our bed-post: for all our pro-PLOS rhetoric, this is the first time either of has had a paper published in a PLOS journal.

Wedel and Taylor (2013b: Figure 4). Giraffatitan brancai tail MB.R.5000 (‘Fund no’) in right lateral view. Dark blue vertebrae have pneumatic fossae on both sides, light blue vertebrae have pneumatic fossae only on the right side, and white vertebrae have no pneumatic fossae on either side. The first caudal vertebra (hatched) was not recovered and is reconstructed in plaster.

It’s a bit of a statistical anomaly that after a decade of collaboration in which there was never a Taylor & Wedel or Wedel & Taylor paper, suddenly we have five of them out in a single year (including the Barosaurus preprint, which we expect to eventually wind up as Taylor and Wedel 2014). Sorry about the alphabet soup.

Since Matt is away at SVP this week, I’ll be blogging mostly about the Taylor and Wedel paper this week. When Matt returns to civilian life, the stage should be clear for him to blog about pneumatic caudals.

Happy days!



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